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Art-Pacific (Carolyn Leigh - Ron Perry): Guide to Artifacts

Basket Hooks from New Guinea

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also Diary entry, 1990s: Village Houses in the Sepik-Ramu River Basin

Figure 1: Four hooks from the East Sepik Province of Papua New Guinea. The second one is from Kabriman Village on the Blackwater River. It has a disc on top which may represent the sun, but also stops rats from climbing down to the hooks. The other three are from Sepik River villlages.

[4 Middle Sepik Rv. Hooks: 36k]

We have collected all sizes of hooks over the years, from ones the size of your hand to others over 6 feet (2 meters) high. Usually they are carved out of single piece of wood in a double fish hook shape. In the Highlands of Irian Jaya, two to four curved pig tusks will be used for hooks and bilum string used to bind them to a center rod.

Each area and village has its typical style. Some are quite simple. Others are elaborately carved and brightly painted. They may be decorated with shells, feathers, anything that adds to the visual power of the piece. A figure often represent an ancestor from the early history of the group. Other possibilities are crocodiles, cockatoos or significant local wildlife.

A hook which has been used for a very long time will develop a smooth patina along the top rims of the hooks where the storage bags hung. For a collector, a basket hook is a true ethnographic artifact, as well as a piece which is artistically interesting as well.


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Diary entry, 1990s: Village Houses in the Sepik-Ramu River Basin

Copyright Carolyn Leigh, 1997. All rights reserved.

Houses along the rivers are built post and beam style. Beams are lashed to the posts with kanda (rattan). The floor is raised 6 feet (2 meters) or more above the ground. In the wet season, the river comes up almost to the floors of the houses.

During the dry season, the area under the house is a shady place for storage, for cooking or for working on carvings. It may be further shaded with additional thatch on the sides. A small, smoky fire is kept burning on the packed dirt to keep the mosquitoes away. There are sections of log and carved stools for sitting. The men's Haus Tambarans, haus wins and some family houses have shelf-like beds extending along the sides for sitting and storage of personal items.

The roof is thatched with thick layers of plaited palm fronds. The sides are enclosed with a decorative flat-woven blind, walls of lashed rows of cane or pangals, panels made from the bark of the sago palm which may be painted with clan designs, especially in a Haus Tambaran where they decorate the ceilings as well.

Windows are cut beneath the protective overhang of the thatch. Doorways may have cane or even wooden doors with padlocks, but often a door is "closed" and "locked" simply by placing a bundle of palm fronds across the opening.

The floor is laid down using large sheets of limbon, the bark from a type of palm (Kentiopsis archontophoenix). The open texture of these springy sheets lets dirt and other small items (like a toothbrush) fall through and the gaps where they overlap can be tricky to negotiate at night.

Inside, a house will have a cooking area near the front, often with a clay Chambri fireplace and sago storage jars, plus a Biwat fish smoking pot hung over the smoldering fire. The family mosquito nets are hung near the privacy of the back. Fish basket traps, nets and other items are stored in the rafters. Basket hooks suspend bilums (net bags) and baskets of food off the floor away from rats and the family dogs.

Water is collected from the river at the upstream end of the village or from rain water cisterns when possible. Washing and other chores are done farther downstream. Most Sepik villages have enclosed, thatched, pit-style outhouses (smolhaus) which sit back in the jungle away from the houses and the river. It's polite to cough loudly when approaching, if someone is already inside they will cough back.

Neatly swept paths and clearings wind through a village. They are divided according to clans with colorful crotons and other ceremonial plants marking boundaries and sacred areas.

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Melanesian art TOC | Map of art areas of Melanesia
Papua New Guinea: Highlands: body art - Bundi tapa - jewelry/dancers | Karawari and Blackwater Rivers: masks - carvings - map | Massim: artifacts- Trobriand Kula - map | Kula canoe | New Britain: Baining - Sulka - Tolai dukduk | New Ireland: Malagan | Ramu River: masks - carvings - map | Sepik River: masks - carvings - villages - map | Papuan Gulf: masks - carvings - map - Gogodala - Kukukuku
other areas: Asmat | Solomon Islands: crafts - jewelry - map
art and craft:
barkcloth (tapa) | body art | cane and fiber figures | canoes and prows | jewelry/dancers | masks - Middle Sepik | phallocrypts | pottery - Chambri | shields | story boards | suspension hooks | weapons | yam masks - fiber | yam masks - wood

Indonesian art TOC | Dyak baby carriers and masks | furniture | Java folk art | Lombok baskets | Lombok lontar boxes | masks from Bali and Java | puppets

China: Bai textiles/art TOC | baby carriers | baby hats | woodblock prints

Collecting New Guinea art in the field since 1964.

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Artifacts on this site were collected in the field by my husband, Ron Perry. I take the photographs, do the html, text and maps. Background in Who We Are. Art-Pacific has been on the WWW since 1996. We hope you enjoy our New Guinea tribal art and Indonesian folk art as much as we do. by Carolyn Leigh is licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-ND 4.0